In an early farewell address today at the National Press Club in Washington, the Michigan Democrat also offered a dour assessment of what it will take to shatter the stalemate and partisan brinksmanship that marks life on Capitol Hill these days — either a “national calamity” that brings lawmakers together or an election in which “the voters threw us all the hell out,” Democrats and Republicans alike.
Dingell, on the cusp of turning 88, certainly has perspective on the matter. A House member since December 1955, it was a little over a year ago that he set the record for the longest tenure in either chamber of Congress. Neither President Barack Obama nor about half of the current House members had been born when he took office. And during his stint, 11 presidents have occupied the White House.
Dingell said a chief source of the slowdown in policymaking is the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” ruling that removed limits on independent political spending by corporations and union that spawned the Super-PACs that now exert so much influence in campaigns. The court’s 2010 decision “was by no means written by intelligent people,” he told his audience.
“History will show there is a very selfish game going on and our government has been largely put up for sale,” he said.
Dingell also pointed his finger at newer lawmakers who have little expertise before they want to weigh in on the toughest issues of the day. And he decried the trend toward committees that are so large it’s hard for any member to speak for more than five minutes at any given hearing. That, he said, has robbed the institution of small groups of respected policy experts who once drove the agenda — instead of party leaders.
“There was a time when Congress could and did work,” he said.
Even with the end of his current term in January, The Dingell name is unlikely to be consigned to history. His wife, Debbie (born a year before her husband won his first election), is running to replace him and is favored in November’s election in the Dearborn-based district. That would continue the unparalled eight-decade streak of Dingells in the chamber. John Dingell took the seat his father had held since 1933.